Tag Archives: privacy

The Increasing Price We Pay For The Free Internet

The Price of Freedom is Visible HerePicture : Rhadaway.

This is a follow-up on my previous post, A Tale Of Two (Or Three) Facebook Challengers. A key point in that post was that we need to be customers, not commodities.  In the cases of Facebook, Google and the vast majority of free web resources, the business model is to provide a content platform for the public and fund the business via advertising.  In this model, simply, our content is the commodity.  The customer is the advertiser.  And the driving decisions regarding product features relate more to how many advertisers they can bring on and retain than how they can meet the public’s wants and needs.

It’s a delicate balance.  They need to make it compelling for us to participate and provide the members and content that the advertisers can mine and market.  But since we aren’t the ones signing the checks, they aren’t accountable to us, and, as we’ve seen with Facebook, ethical considerations about how they use our data are often afterthoughts.  We’ve seen it over and over, and again this week when they backed off on a real names policy that many of their users considered threatening to their well-being.  One can’t help but wonder, given the timing of their statement, how much new competitor Ello’s surge in popularity had to do with the retraction. After all, this is where a lot of the people who were offended by the real names policy went.  And they don’t want to lose users, or all of their advertisers will start working on Ello to make the Facebook deal.

Free Software is at the Heart of the Internet

Freeware has been around since the ’80’s, much of it available via Bulletin Boards and online services like CompuServe and AOL. It’s important to make some distinctions here.  There are several variants of freeware, and it’s really only the most recent addition that’s contributing to this ethically-challenged business model:

  • Freeware is software that someone creates and gives away, with no license restrictions or expectation of payment. The only business model that this supports is when the author has other products that they sell, and the freeware applications act as loss leaders to introduce their paid products.
  • Donationware is much like Freeware, but the author requests a donation. Donationware authors don’t get rich from it, but they’re usually just capitalizing on a hobby.
  • Freemium is software that you can download for free and use, but the feature set is limited unless you purchase a license.
  • Open Source is software that is free to download and use, as well as modify to better meet your needs. It is subject to a license that mostly insures that, if you modify the code, you will share your modifications freely. The business model is usually based on providing  training and support for the applications.
  • Adware is free or inexpensive software that comes with advertising.  The author makes money by charging the advertisers, not the users, necessarily.

Much of the Internet runs on open source: Linux, Apache, OpenSSL, etc. Early adopters (like me) were lured by the free software. In 1989, I was paying $20 an hour to download Novell networking utilities from Compuserve when I learned that I could get a command line internet account for $20 a month and download them from Novell’s FTP site. And, once I had that account, I found lots more software to download in addition to those networking drivers.

Adware Ascendant

Adware is now the prevalent option for free software and web-based services, and it’s certainly the model for 99% of the social media sites out there.  The expectation that software, web-based and otherwise, will be free originated with the freeware, open source and donationware authors. But the companies built on adware are not motivated by showing off what they’ve made or supporting a community.  Any company funded by venture capital is planning on making money off of their product.  Amazon taught the business community that this can be a long game, and there might be a long wait for a payoff, but the payoff is the goal.

Ello Doesn’t Stand A Chance

So Ello comes along and makes the same points that I’m making. Their revenue plan is to go to a freemium model, where basic social networking is free, but some features will cost money, presumably business features and, maybe, mobile apps. The problem is that the pricing has to be reasonable and, to many, any price is unreasonable, because they like being subsidized by the ad revenue. The expectation is that social media networks are free.  For a social network to replace something as established as Facebook, they will need to offer incentives, not disincentives, and, sadly, the vast majority of Facebook users aren’t going to leave unless they are severely inconvenienced by Facebook, regardless of how superior or more ethical the competition is.

So I don’t know where this is going to take us, but I’m tired of getting things for free.  I think we should simply outlaw Adware and return to the simple capitalist economy that our founders conceived of : the one where people pay each other money for products and services. Exchanging dollars for goods is one abstraction layer away from bartering. It’s not as complex and creepy as funding your business by selling the personal information about your users to third parties.  On the Internet, freedom’s just another word for something else to lose.

A Tale Of Two (Or Three) Facebook Challengers

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 8.20.31 PMFor a website that hosts so many cute pet videos, Facebook is not a place that reeks of happiness and sincerity. It’s populated by a good chunk of the world, and it’s filled with a lot of meaningful moments captured in text, camera and video by people who know that, more and more every day, this is where you can share these moments with a broad segment of your friends and family. And that’s the entire hook of Facebook — it’s where everybgoogleplusody is.  The feature set is not the hook, because Google Plus and a variety of other platforms offer similar feature sets. And many of those competitors, including Google’s offering, are more sensitive to the privacy concerns of their users and less invasive about how they share your data with advertisers.

Many of my professional acquaintances are on both Facebook and Google Plus. But they comprise only about a third of my Facebook friends. So I check Facebook most every day.  I go to Google Plus on rare occasion.

Facebook has a well-known history of overstepping.  From the numerous poorly thought out schemes to court advertisers by letting them tell the world what lingerie we’re buying to use our photos in sidebar advertising, to the constant updating of security settings that seems to always result in less security, it’s clear to most of us that Facebook is trying to please it’s advertisers primarily, and we are more the commodity that they broker than the clientele that they serve.

A few years ago, some people who valued Facebook but were fed up with these concerns developed Diaspora, the anti-Facebook — a network that is built on open source software; distributed, and highly respectful of our right to own and control our content. Diaspora does this by storing the data in “podEllos“, which are individual data stores hosted by users.  You can join a friend or neighbor’s pod, or start your own.  The pods, which work a lot like peer-to-peer apps like BitTorrent, communicate with each other, but the people who run Diaspora do not control that data.  You can blow away your Pod from your file manager or command line if you care to, and nobody is going to stop you. If these networks were fictional, Facebook would have been created by Andy Warhol and Diaspora by Ursula LeGuin.

And this week’s big news is Ello, which, like Diaspora, has defined itself in relationship to Facebook as the user-focused alternative.  Ello is, at present, a rough beta network that shows glimmers of elegance.  Their manifesto is poetry to BoingBoing readers like me:

“Your social network is owned by advertisers.

Every post you share, every friend you make, and every link you follow is tracked, recorded, and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold.

We believe there is a better way. We believe in audacity. We believe in beauty, simplicity, and transparency. We believe that the people who make things and the people who use them should be in partnership.

We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce, and manipulate — but a place to connect, create, and celebrate life.

You are not a product.”

But let’s be clear about Ello. It’s centralized, like Facebook; not distributed, like Diaspora.  It was built with about half a mil of venture capital funding. It will need to make money at some point in order to return on that investment.  As we watch Twitter get more and more commercialized, we know that this is a story just waiting to happen.

So, what am I saying?  That we should skip Ello and proceed to Diaspora?  Sadly, no.  While Diaspora has the model that I believe is viable to sustain a non-commercial, user-focused network, Grandma isn’t going to host her own server pod.  Peer-to-peer technology is not ready for prime time yet.  So I don’t see a Facebook killer here, or there, or anywhere in sight.  I see people who understand that the crass pimping of our personal lives that Mark Zuckerberg calls a business model is problematic and worthy of replacing.  We can’t replace it with something too geeky for the masses, nor can we replace it with a clone that kinda hopes that it will have a better business model (but likely will only have a less abrasive version, much like Google Plus).

I have a lot of high hopes lately.

I hope that we can curtail this trend of training our local police to be paramilitary units and champion nationwide community policing, as a community controls and reduces crime, while a military goes to war.

I hope that we can reverse the damage that was done when TV News programs became subject to Neilsen ratings.  I consider that to have been a dark day for our society. It was the hard turn that steered us to a place where news is available for whatever biased lens that you want to view it through.

And I hope that somebody will develop a Facebook competitor with a viable business model and a compelling feature set that will yank all of my friends and family out of their complacent acceptance of Facebook’s trade-offs. In this digital era, this is insanely important. We commune online; we share our most treasured moments. We sway each other’s attitudes on important matters.  The platform has to be agnostic, and it has to be devoted to our goals, not those of a third party, such as advertisers.  We have enough problems with societal institutions that have a stated purpose, but answer to people with different aims.

These are all realistic dreams.  But they seem pretty far away.

Why You Should Delete All Facebook Mobile Apps Right Now

fblogoIt’s nice that Facebook is so generous and they give us their service and apps for free. One should never look a gift horse in the mouth, right? Well, if the gift horse is stomping through my bedroom and texting all of my friends while I’m not looking, I think it bears my attention.  And yours. So tell me why Facebook needs these permissions on my Android phone:

  • read calendar events plus confidential information
  • add or modify calendar events and send email to guests without owners’ knowledge
  • read your text messages (SMS or MMS)
  • directly call phone numbers
  • create accounts and set passwords
  • change network connectivity
  • connect and disconnect from Wi-Fi

This is a cut and pasted subset of the list, which you can peruse at the Facebook app page on Google Play. Just scroll down to the “Additional Information” section and click the “View Details” link under the “Permissions” header. Consider:

  • Many of these are invitations for identify theft.  Facebook can place phone calls, send emails, and schedule appointments without your advance knowledge or explicit permission.
  • With full internet access and the ability to create accounts and set passwords, Facebook could theoretically lock you out of your device and set up an account for someone else.

Now, I’m not paranoid — I don’t think that the Facebook app is doing a lot of these things.  But I have no idea why it requires the permissions to do all of this, and the idea that an app might communicate with my contacts without my explicit okay causes me great concern. Sure, I want to be able to set up events on my tablet.  But I want a box to pop up saying that the app will now send the invites to Joe, Mary and Grace; and then ask “Is that okay?” before it actually does it.  I maintain some sensitive business relationships in my contacts.  I don’t think it’s a reasonable thing for Facebook to have the ability to manage them for me.

This is all the more reason to be worried about Facebook’s plan to remove the messaging features from the Facebook app and insist that we all install Facebook Messenger if we want to share mobile pictures or chat with our friends.  Because this means well have two apps with outrageous permissions if we want to use Facebook on the go.

I’ve always considered Facebook’s proposition to be a bit insidious. My family and friends are all on there.  I could announce that I’m moving over to Google Plus, but most of them would not follow me there.  That is the sole reason that I continue to use Facebook.

But it’s clear to me that Facebook is building it’s profit model on sharing a lot of what makes me a unique individual.  I share my thoughts and opinions, likes and dislikes, and relationships on their platform. They, in turn, let their advertisers know that they have far more insight into who I am, what I’ll buy, and what my friends will buy than the average website.  Google’s proposition is quite similar, but Google seems to be more upfront and respectful about it, and the lure I get from Google is “we’ll give you very useful tools in return”.  Google respects me enough to show some constraint: the Google+ app on Play requires none of the permissions listed above. So I don’t consider Facebook to be a company that has much respect for me in the first place.  And that’s all the more reason to not trust  them with my entire reputation on my devices.

Do you agree? Use the hashtag #CloseTheBook to share this message online.

Two Thoughts On The New FaceBook Timeline


Photo by
smemon

Facebook announced that, on October 3rd, our profiles will all turn into “Timelines” that describe our lives (as Facebook knows them) in a glossy, magazine like format. And, as of right now, you can enable magazine apps (for WaPo and Guardian, more to come) that will randomly post what you’re reading to your wall without asking your permission first.I have two thoughts on this:

First, I feel sorry for the early adopters. I came to Facebook late, long after I had reason to distrust Zukerberg and co, in response to the cajoling of some of my more notorious nptech friends. I never believed that anything I posted there was private, and I had been well trained in online reputation management by my prior years of activity on bulletin boards, Usenet, mailing lists and Twitter. For many of you, all of your early mistakes are about to be unearthed and offered for everyone to see, from new friends that you’ve made since you got your FB voice modulated, to advertisers who are eager to know that, three or four years ago, you were really into SpongeBob.

Second, this new API feature that allows an app to post your activity when it wants strikes me as the epitome of anti-social networking. I really appreciate that I can peruse my wall and see articles, pictures and clips that my friends, co-workers and family thought I might like to see. This is, perhaps, the biggest boon and focus of social networking: curated sharing. It’s not random; it’s not based on a metric; it’s based on someone I like enough to call a friend saying “I found this worthwhile”. But, were I to install the WaPo app, it would decide which articles I want to share with my community for me. So I might click on some very boring report on a White House policy effort, or a review of some TV Show that I’m checking to verify that I was right to ignore it, and WaPo will happily tell my friends that I’m reading about this or that. This sucks the value out of social networking and turns me into a spammer.

Reports came in today that Spotify, the popular online music service, now defaults to posting every song that you listen to to your FB profile. If I have twenty friends who listen to Spotify all day and do this, I’m afraid that I’ll never bother to read my FB feed again. It’s cool if you’re listening to that awesome Gillian Welch cover of Radiohead’s “Black Star” and want to share the occasion; it’s not if you follow it up with the Hall and Oates hit, the Eddie Veder Beatles cover and the Indigo Girls or Beyonce or Five for Fighting song that follows. I’m not THAT interested.

So Facebook is apparently about to take sharing into the realm of spamming, and make all of us the perpetrators. Nice move…

Why Google+ Will Succeed Where Wave And Buzz Failed

Geoff Livingston of NPTech Strategic consulting firm Zoetica held a little contest yesterday, and I won a copy of his book. The challenge? Explain, convincingly, why Google’s latest attempt at social networking, Google+, is not just a shiny object. Or why it is one. I chose the former, here’s my winning post:

Here’s my take on why, after the shininess fades, Google+ will still be an active social network.

First, they’ve learned from mistakes, theirs and others. They learned a lot from the failed Wave and Buzz projects, making privacy front and center; doing uncharacteristically flashy UI design (even stealing one of the Apple guys to do it); and not being too heavy-handed in the rollout. They are leveraging the Google App ecosystem, as Buzz tried to, but this seems like a cleaner and more serious effort — instead of just pasting a social network onto GMail, they’re incorporating apps like Picasa into it. Those of us already drinking the Google Koolaid (and they say that Google Apps is a high priority) will find it very useful (as opposed to redundant, as Buzz largely was).

The biggest lesson they learned was to not let people stream pollute as easily as they could on Buzz. I maintain that Buzz is a great platform for communications. It’s the ultimate cross between a blog and blog comments that could foster great conversations and raise the art of information sharing, if we didn’t have to wade through 20,000 redundant tweets to get to the good stuff. Google opened a floodgate of noise there, and too many users — including very good friends of mine — were happy to add to the din.

Second, they’ve created something compelling. It out-Facebook’s Facebook for interpersonal sharing and it can stretch to Twitter functionality. What’s powerful here is that, unlike Facebook, where targeting subsets of your friends requires advanced knowledge of the platform and a lot of patience, this interface makes it easy to either have an intimate chat or broadcast info widely. It’s easy to follow strangers that I’m not really interested in conversing with, at the same time that I can have deep talks with my close friends. They really got it right with Circles — friend/follower management on FB and Twitter is ridiculously kludgy in comparison. So, unlike Wave, which was too obtuse, and unlike Buzz, which wasn’t compelling, this is elegant and compelling. It wins people over.

Third, they’ve nailed SEO. The early adopters are raving about the hits it’s generating and the great statistics available. That’s going to be a more sticky draw than the shininess.

Most of all, they’ve emulated the cool Facebook stuff while shedding all of the annoyances. You can friend strangers here without over-sharing with them. You can +1 a commercial entity (or NPO) without inviting them to flood your stream with ads. You can tell your best friend something without sharing it with your mom. And that’s all easy; there’s no complicated help screen or multi-level privacy settings to contend with. It just works.

Sleazy Sales Tactics and Social Networks

usedcar
Image courtesy bonkedproducer

This is a public service announcement (aka rant) intended for IT product and service reps. In a nutshell:

If your spam and cold calls haven’t resulted in a business relationship, tracking me down personally on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook won’t work either.

Let’s be clear: it’s not a secret that I have purchasing responsibility for IT at my company, and my business contact info is easy to find (or purchase). Mind you, I don’t hire companies based on their ability to locate that information and email or call me. I hire consultants and purchase products based on the recommendations in my communities. So cold contacting me might be inexpensive and easy for you to do, but all it tells me is that you don’t respect my time or privacy and you can’t sustain your business based on quality and word of mouth. Two strikes against you, whereas, before you cold-contacted me, you had none.

But, in failing to spam me into a relationship, taking it to LinkedIn or the contact form here is taking your pathetic and unprofessional approach to marketing into a whole new realm of sleaziness and creepitude. Cold-contacting me at my business email or on my business phone is annoying and pathetic, but far more appropriate that tracking down my personal, non-business addresses and contacting me at those. It’s called stalking.

I’m looking at you, Server Technologies. The fact that you’ve spammed me in the past does not mean that we have an established business relationship, as your LinkedIn invite falsely indicates.

And local IT Recruiters 58 and Foggy — you take the cake. Within two minutes, out of the blue, you cold-called my work number, emailed me personally via this blog, and sent me a LinkedIn invite. That was so over the top annoying that I not only will never do business with you, I’ll make sure that all of my professional acquaintances are warned away.

Because I seriously question what a company that violates my privacy as a means of introduction would do if I actually relied on them and dealt with them financially. Ethical behavior? Not a safe thing to assume. Professionalism? Already in the toilet.

Social networks offer a great avenue for the type of business promotion that works for me — word of mouth. Sincere recommendations from people who think you’re good at what you do because they’ve used your products or services. You can foster my business by doing well enough with your current customers that they will speak well of you online. You can also demonstrate your expertise by publishing materials and distributing them on Slideshare and other public repositories (including your web site, of course). If you put your energy into establishing your credentials, instead of shoving your uncertified opinion that you’re great into every channel that you can reach me through, you’ll get a shot at my business. But using these networks to harass and annoy potential customers is incredibly stupid and short-sighted.

Why the TSA Groping is a Big, Big Problem

tsa_before-after

Photo by Raymond Mendosa

I’ve been pretty horrified by the new TSA security procedures since I first caught wind of them.  The Boing Boing blog has been doing excellent coverage of the fiasco, providing the best examples of how damaging these new exposing and groping procedures can be to innocent Americans, and why crossing over from threat detection to threat assumption policies is bad, bad, bad for our democracy.

I’ve also been hearing the backlash against the complaints.  A number of people had relatively painless holiday travel experiences last week and are now saying it was all a lot of hype.  But I continue to consider a level of terrorist prevention this extreme to be more likely to traumatize more Americans than the threat they’re protecting us from will.  It’s not about the 95% of the population who, like me, can pretty much shrug and say “I don’t care that much if you photograph me semi-nude” or, “I can tolerate a little more radiation — it’s not like this is the only place I’m exposed to it” or, even, “I get that you’re going to touch my private parts and that this isn’t molestation, you’re not enjoying it either”.  It’s about the rape and molestation victims, past and future, as well as the people who, for personal or religious reasons, can’t minimize the trauma of being exposed to or groped by strangers.  Not the majority of us, but a very significant minority,

So then I see an article like this, which has the top TSA official basically saying to parents (like me), “don’t explain to your children that what the TSA agent is about to do to you is necessary, but should never, ever be tolerated by strangers when Mommy and/or Daddy aren’t right here with you and it isn’t absolutely required for security reasons”, but, instead saying, “tell your kid that the TSA agent is just playing a harmless game that involves touching you”.  Because strangers touching children’s genitalia is, of course, no big deal and the priority here is to make sure everyone is calm and smiling as they submit to these procedures.  Months later, when lecherous Uncle Eddie wants to play the same game, well, Mommy and Daddy know about this game and said it was okay for the TSA agent to play, so they’re not going to consider this a problem…

Security at the cost of the humiliation of abused adults and government approved molesting of children terrorizes citizens.  It doesn’t make us more secure, even if it’s not a “big deal” for most of us.  This is a government-sanctioned human rights violation, and we really shouldn’t tolerate it.

How Google Can Kick Facebook’s Butt

This article was first published on the Idealware Blog in May of 2010.

infrastructures.png

(XKCD Cartoon by Randall Munroe)

Facebook really annoyed a lot of people with their recent, heavy-handed moves.  You can read about this all over the place, here are some good links about what they’ve done, what you should do and why it bothers some of us:

Facebook’s Announcement (from their Blog)

Understanding the Open Graph from Chris Messina

Mark Zuckerberg’s claim that internet privacy is “over” from Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb

Three Ways Facebook Will Dramatically Change Your Nonprofit (from John Hayden)

Why I Don’t “Like” Facebook and Void Rage: Unable To Muster Facebook Anger from Techcafeteria

Why You Shouldn’t Delete Your Facebook Account by Janet Fouts

Facebook and “Radical Transparency” (A Rant) by Danah Boyd

Long story short, though, Facebook wants us all to open up, and they want the web to be a place where you do things and report back to Facebook about them.  My take on this is that Im in favor of an open web that offers a rich, social experience with lots of referred information.  I don’t consider Facebook an acceptable platform or steward of that function.

Why Google?

As my colleague Johanna pointed out, there’s already an effort underway to develop a purely open alternative to Facebook. The Diaspora project has received significant funding and seems to be run by some very thoughtful, intelligent people.  But I look at this as a kind of David and Goliath proposition, with the rider that this Goliath won’t even blink if David hurls a rock at him.  If someone is going to displace Facebook, it’s not likely going to be a tiny startup with a couple of $100k.  It’s going to be Google.

You might ask me, isn;t this just trading one corporate overseer for another? And the answer is yes.  But Google’s guiding principle is “Don’t be Evil“. Facebook’s, apparently, is “milk your users for every penny their personal data can net you“.  If someone’s going to capitalize on my interactions with friends, family and the world, I’d rather it be the corporation that has demonstrated some ethics in their business decisions to the one that has almost blatantly said that they don’t care about their users.

Supplementing Buzz

So, how can Google play Indiana Jones to the rolling boulder that is Facebook? Not by just pushing Buzz.  I’ll get to Buzz in a minute, because I’m a fanboy of the platform.  But Buzz alone isn’t a Facebook killer, and Google won’t have a foothold unless they take a couple of their afterthought properties and push them front and center.

Big Google Product: GMail. Afterthought that supports it: Contacts.

Google needs to do some heavy re-imagining of their contact management app if they want to gain a foothold against Facebook. Facebook’s contact management is simple and elegant; Google’s looks like a web app that I might have developed.  They need to get some of the good UI people lurking among the geeks to do an overhaul, stat, adding features like social media site integration (ala Rapportive or Gist) and more ajaxy, seamless ways to create and manage people and groups.

Big Google Product: Buzz. Afterthought that supports it: Google Profiles.

Social networking is all about the profile; why doesn’t Google get that?  Buzz isn’t the home page; the profile is, and what Google has provided for us is cute, simplistic, and far too limited to meet our needs.  But the customization options for the current profile are limited, and the whole thing just feels lazy on Google’s part, as if they spent a half hour designing it and then dumped it on us.

Why Buzz Rocks

I’ve written about Buzz before; more to this point on my other blog.  Google Buzz supports about 90% of the basic features of a full-fledged blogging platform like WordPress or Blogger:

  • I can write a post with images.
  • Commenting, with some commenting moderation, is in place.
  • You can subscribe to my Buzz feed as an individual RSS feed, or just visit it on my profile.
  • But, unlike this blog, my Buzz posts are also subscribable in the Buzz news feed interface, like Twitter or Facebook, making it all the richer in terms of how people can reply and interact.  That’s pretty powerful.
  • Buzz supports groups (via Contacts) and private posts.
  • Google just announced (like, yesterday) an API that will allow people to develop apps that interact with and run on the Buzz platform.
  • And, of course, Buzz integrates right into my email, keeping it front and center, and convenient.

Tying It All Together

Google could make this a powerful alternative to Facebook by doing a few simple things:

  • Almost everyone I know who gave Buzz a try instantly ported in their Twitter feed and then forgot about it, leaving those of us who like Buzz left to sift through all of that stuff that, hey, we’ve already read, because we haven’t left Twitter. So, Google should lose the universal feed feature. Keep it about the value of the conversation, not the volume level.
  • But keep the Google Reader integration, along with link, picture and video posts.  A good blog comments on other web content, not other web feeds, and the integration of Google Reader as a content source works.  One reason it works is because you can post the Google Reader items with comments.
  • Make the profile page more configurable and dynamic, allowing users to add tabs and link them to RSS sources, much the way we add content to the sidebars of our blogs.  This is how my twitter feed should be integrated, not interspersed with my Buzz posts.
  • Make Contacts a tab on the profile page.
  • Add theming to the profile page.  Emulate the Blogger theming options.
  • I own a domain with my name on it, and I would point that domain to my profile page and make Buzz my blog if I had the ability to make that profile a page that I could call my own.

Conclusion

As much as I’d appreciate an open web, not a corporate owned one, I’m just not idealistic enough to believe that it’s still a possibility. If i have a choice of corporate overlords, I want the one that open sources most of their software; maintains high ethical standards for how their ads are displayed; has a track record of corporate philanthropy; and is relatively respectful of the fact that my friends and information belongs to me. That’s not Facebook. Please do weigh in on whether I’m too cynical or too trusting of the alternative, because this is an important topic. The future of the web depends on who we trust to steward our interactions.

Void Rage: Unable to Muster Facebook Anger

Following is a guest post from Jon Loomer, offering a different perspective on Facebook’s privacy changes.

Jon Loomer’s career has evolved from overseeing Fantasy Basketball product, content, marketing and promotion for the National Basketball Association to his current position as VP of Strategic Marketing for a non-profit. His focus is on social media strategy, Facebook and mobile development. You can follow him on Twitter @JonLoomer or read his blog focused on the subject of baseball atTippingPitches.blogspot.com. The following opinions are his only and do not reflect those of his affiliations.

It took a few weeks, but internet rage over Facebook’s Like button and latest privacy ramifications is in full swing. Bloggers swinging at Facebook’s knee caps with aluminum bats seem to outnumber those who come to CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s defense 20:1. And if a blogger does post a defense, duck and cover as soon as you hit “publish” because the rage will bubble up from the comments section.

So when Peter asked me if I’d be interested in writing a guest post on his blog in defense of Facebook’s changes, I had mixed emotions. On one hand, I’m absolutely flattered that he’d ask. On the other, I’m uncomfortable taking a hugely unpopular stand. The position is so unpopular that it ventures into “controversial” territory. Can I post anonymously?

I’m not a controversial dude. And any controversial opinions I have, I tend to keep relatively private, restricted to my inner circle.

But here’s the irony: I share these “controversial” opinions on Facebook. And I only share them with a small group of friends by using lists. But to the outer circle, I’m a harmless guy without much flare for the dramatic.

You must be outraged!

I may avoid controversy, but Facebook feeds off of it. Everywhere I turn, I read another blog telling me how angry I should be with Facebook’s dangerous disregard for my privacy. And because of this, a small part of me is trying to convince the rest of me that I, too, need to be outraged. But I can’t conjure up the energy.

The Utility of Facebook
First a little background on me as a Facebook user. I’ve used Facebook since it rolled out to the non-student public in 2006. My company partnered with Facebook on an application for that initial launch. So I’ve been there from “the beginning.”

And I’ve also been there through a multitude of changes, some vertical and some lateral. No matter how major the changes were, they were controversial. And the uproars increased as the Facebook population screamed past 100, 200, 300 and 400 Million.

This undoubtedly has something to do with my lack of rage now. I’ve become numb to the anger. Whether it’s a Facebook change or any other controversial revelation, I try to remain level headed. Before I react negatively to Facebook’s changes in particular, I try them out for a while. Think about the end game and why they’d make the change. And when I read a rumor about how Facebook is going to charge a monthly fee, or that they allow pedophiles to access my profile, I research first.

While I haven’t agreed with every change Facebook has made, I still recognize that they have made gradual improvements over the course of the past four years that have resulted in a much better overall product. The navigation is vastly improved, and I have far greater control now over who sees what and when.

Sure, some things (name, profile photo, gender, current city, networks, friends, pages) are available to the public now. But these are not things that bother me. You could already pull up photos of my handsome mug (hereherehere and here) by running a Google search. I’d hope my gender is obvious. And although I did scale down my pages after they became publicly viewable, I am now comfortable sharing those interests with anyone who cares.

After that, I’ve always used my privacy settings. Status by status, link by link, photo by photo, I pick and choose my audience. There are times when I keep what I share to a small audience of “Good Friends.” There are others when I share with all of my friends, some of whom I don’t know. And still others, I’ll feel the need to share with “Everyone,” as in — shudder — everyone on the Internet.

But I also use Twitter. I maintain a blog. So there are certain things I’m used to sharing with everyone. And when I share with the world, I have a reason for doing so.

It’s because of this control that I find Facebook extremely useful. I can contact just about anyone from my 500+ connections in an instant. I can promote my blog or share my son’s lemonade stand to raise money for childhood cancer research. Or I can simply goof off casually with friends. But it’s all controlled.

I also control what it is that third party developers see and what my friends can share about me. Developers can access everything that is already available to the public (which isn’t a whole lot), and my friends can’t share much more than that about me either. So I leave enough available for most useful applications to work, but without giving away more than I am comfortable.

The New Features
So all that said, Facebook rolled out a few features recently that were said to impact my privacy. I personally found them to be brilliant. I knew there would be backlash (there always is), but I admit I didn’t expect anything at this scale.

The Like Button: This addition has essentially made millions of web pages an extension of Facebook. The collage of my friends’ faces acts as a welcome mat at the front door of sites that are new to me. My friend likes this? Let me check it out. My friend says I should go to this restaurant? Not a bad idea. These are things that I would have otherwise seen on Facebook, but now I see them at the source to provide more relevance.

Not only is the Like button good for me as a user, but it is also good for me from the business side — both on my blog (loosely defined as a business) and my organization’s web pages. I’ve quickly realized that users are much more inclined to click a Like button than go through the process of retweeting or even sharing through Facebook. It’s easy. It’s awesome.

Instant Personalization: Policies aside (we’ll get to this later), I love the idea. I can go to Pandora and immediately access music that I like or my friends like. I can go to Yelp and immediately find a restaurant that they recommend. There is so much to like here. It makes the web a warmer, more social, and more relevant place.

Updated Privacy Settings: This has caused a stir, but it really wasn’t a problem for me. As I mentioned before, I’ve always been on top of my privacy. So when the new privacy settings were rolled out, I took my time to make sure everything was set up the way I wanted. While some may claim that Facebook pulled a fast one on us, it’s not as if this was done discretely without you knowing. You were forced to go through the new settings and verify. Might it have been a bit overwhelming? Maybe. But if you care about your privacy like I do, it’s something you should understand.

Community Pages: This one has been run more on the down low because it is a beta product. Thousands of community pages have been created by Facebook and some general pages have been converted (often to the dismay of the administrator). Unlike the typical Facebook page, there is no admin control (at least for now) of the community page. It is, apparently, intended to be a wiki of some sort, with information fed by people’s content who like the page. It’s not clear yet what value, if any, these pages have, but the usage is likely to evolve.

The Confusion
Part of Facebook’s problem is that this new Facebook-centered web can be a bit startling at first. When you go to another website, you don’t expect to see a list of your Facebook friends who like something. You don’t expect a website you did not previously visit to know what you like and don’t like to make recommendations. But people need to simply look at the web as an extension of Facebook, particularly when using social plug-ins. Instead of viewing that your friend likes an ESPN article in your Facebook feed, you see it on ESPN.com. It’s not as if the world can see this information. What you see is different than what I see. And your privacy settings still apply, which may not be immediately obvious.

There is also confusion because there are very few blogs and articles being written on this subject that equally weigh the issue. Many make it seem as though all of our private content is at risk; that no matter how we adjust our privacy settings, everything is available to the world. They are biased towards negativity and rage because that’s what brings traffic. We are told to either delete our Facebook profiles or simply put them on lock-down, preventing everyone from seeing anything, disallowing instant personalization, and blocking as much information from third parties as possible.

The reality, at least as far as I can tell, is that the latest changes won’t harm you if you are already on top of your privacy settings and careful about what you share. But based on the media coverage, it would be easy for someone to overreact and go with the flock.

Show Me
This is my biggest problem with the outrage over Facebook’s changes: Almost everything I read is in abstract terms. Please, show me the danger of Facebook’s changes. You’ve probably seen this example of Facebook users who have told the world, knowingly or not, that they have cheated on a test. Well, I can do the same with Twitter users. What’s the point?

Maybe I should feel bad for people who unknowingly publish embarrassing information about themselves for the world to see, but I don’t. For many reasons.

First, let’s not fall for the claim that Facebook made this radical change from closed to open overnight. The latest change did allow search engine indexing of your public profile (if you kept the box checked to allow it) or of that information you shared with “everyone,” but keep in mind that the former definition of “everyone” was all users on Facebook. So you went from sharing embarrassing photos and information about yourself to 400 Million people to the entire world. Eh.

And again, Facebook forced us — all of us — to confirm our privacy settings. Did you ignore them? If you did, should I feel bad for you? Eh.

I understand that I don’t represent all Facebook users, and that’s a very good argument for anyone opposed to the changes. Most people do not spend the time refining their privacy. And many may simply be confused by the settings.

Still, if you’re confused, just restrict everything as much as possible. I keep seeing stats on number of settings and options, but if you just set everything to “Friends” (and your friends truly are your friends), you’ll be fine. Assuming, of course, you’re still careful about what you share.

Everyone needs their own global privacy policy, and this goes beyond Facebook. When you share, do so with the understanding that, even with the best possible settings, any friend can simply copy and paste your status; or save and repost your photo; or simply post a photo or story about something you did. No privacy settings can prevent stupid activity from being seen. It will eventually get out.

That said, I am leaving the door open slightly for the possibility that Facebook has given others far more access to my private life than I know. If this is the case, show me. Show me the application that could potentially harm me.

The Policies
While I enjoy using Facebook and am not in the “delete my profile” community, I admit that I’m not all that comfortable with the entire path that Facebook has taken. I enjoy the new features and am fine with the current privacy settings. However, I do think that they need to be better at communicating changes. They need to be better at communicating, from page to page, what is viewable and what isn’t. Go above and beyond to explain the user’s privacy. Smack them in the face with what audience they are sharing. While I do think Facebook has done a better job at communicating changes than they are given credit, they need to do more.

And I also agree that opt-ins instead of opt-outs are the best policy, particularly with a potentially controversial change. If you are so sure someone is going to want something, first make the compelling argument. Encourage them to check it. Show them what they’re missing if they don’t.

Even so, I firmly believe that putting too much focus on Facebook takes away the important focus on the user’s responsibility to do everything they can to protect themselves. As mentioned before, users needed to agree to each change. We need to be vigilant and understand the ramifications. And if you are too lazy to do the research to understand it, at the very least you need to be more careful about what you post.

How Facebook Can Get Out of this Mess
Just as I am not completely in Facebook’s corner on some of their policies, I also see ways for them to get out of this PR firestorm. While I don’t have much sympathy for the ignorant user, Facebook is still responsible for communicating that these are positive changes.

If I were Facebook, I’d do the following:

  • Put a My Privacy: Who Sees This? link on Community Page by “Related Posts by Friends”
  • Put a My Privacy: Who Sees This? link within social plug-ins, where feasible
  • Put a My Privacy: Who Sees This? link on “trusted third party” sites that implement instant personalization
  • Provide video and commentary explaining some of the changes, answering the criticisms, showing the user why the changes are good for them, and acknowledging that those changes are not for everyone, providing an easy explanation of how to protect themselves
  • Provide regular webinars or tours on features and use of lists to everyone, not just those with the proper page connections
  • Make Instant Personalization opt-in

The last item may be the trickiest since users have already technically opted in to instant personalization when they went through their new privacy settings for the first time. But considering this project is technically a pilot, there’s no need to automatically opt everyone in. Do what they did before. Bring up a box explaining what instant personalization is. Provide videos. Explain why it is good for them. Explain potential risks. Shoot down conspiracies. And then force the user to check the box if they want it.

In Conclusion
While I am not surprised by user backlash as a result of the most recent Facebook changes, I did not expect this level of outrage from mainstream media and technically savvy, intelligent people. With that in mind, it is important that we all do the following:

  • Research and understand the benefits and risks involved
  • Weigh those risks and benefits with the way that each person uses Facebook
  • Understand and actively utilize Facebook’s privacy settings
  • Establish a global “privacy setting,” understanding that if we are concerned about privacy we should always be careful about what we share

In the end, it’s personal. These changes are likely to affect me differently than they do you. Maybe Facebook is just too much of a hassle for you. Maybe Facebook does not offer enough benefit to you to actively manage a sometimes confusing control panel of privacy settings. Maybe you do have reason to be outraged. But I don’t believe this feeling is universal. We all need to rationally weigh the risks and benefits and decide what is best for us.

Why I Don’t “Like” Facebook

Big changes are happening at Facebook, and they mean that what you do and say, on and off of Facebook, is now being more heavily tracked and more broadly shared. If you think that your Facebook data is somewhat private — e.g., shared only with friends and people you specify — you are wrong.

Facebook announced dramatic changes in their service at their annual “F8” conference on Wednesday. Facebook used to be a network where you could establish semi-private communities with family, friends and like-minded sets of people. Now it’s an internet-wide info-sharing platform that can keep your friends, and the businesses and advertisers that Facebook partners with, fully briefed on all of your internet-based activities and opinions.

The biggest announcement was the introduction of the Open Graph and the new “Like” buttons for the web at large. Yesterday, you could only “like” or “fan” something that appeared on Facebook’s web site. Now you can “like” things anywhere that the social graph and like buttons are implemented. What you “like” will be shared with Facebook, your Facebook friends, and all of the applications you subscribe to on Facebook, and, depending on your Facebook privacy settings, the world at large.

Also this week, and all of a sudden, despite what you might have confirmed a few months ago when Facebook started this paradigm shift, your likes, interests and job history are now Google searchable. That’s right: even if you went in and flagged them as private, your only way to protect this information, as of yesterday, is to remove it (and wait a month for it to fall out of Google’s cache).

Online privacy is a relative concept

Much of the Facebook privacy that we lost wasn’t real privacy to begin with, because any time you add an application (such as a quiz), that application’s developers have complete access to your entire Facebook profile. Worse, anytime a friend invites you to use an application, that application gets access to your profile. You don’t have to lift a finger to have data that you’ve marked as private shared with strangers; you just have to have friends on Facebook who aren’t thinking that, by inviting you to compare movie favs, they’re telling a complete stranger your gender, age, birthdate, job history, sharing all of your photos and publishing your wall to them.

Why “Love it or leave it” is unfair

I have friends who are somewhat blaze about all of this. After all, nobody put a gun to my head and ordered me to join Facebook. I just got so many requests from friends and family that I caved. And, once I caved, I connected to a bunch of “blast from the past” friends, extended family, former co-workers and current associates. So, now have a real investment in Facebook as a social connector. Sure, if I don’t like these changes, I can just delete my account and be done with it. But I’m throwing away far more than just a social network profile — I’m tossing out my connection to my communities of friends, family and professional associates, who are now expecting me to be on Facebook with them.

I could decide that I don’t like the policies of my local utility company, too, and just cancel my service. But the services they provide enable other services that I want/require as well — such as light, heat, computing, communication. Leaving Facebook wouldn’t be as extreme as canceling power services, but, with 40 million users and climbing, Facebook is like a utility in many people’s lives, and it supports services in such a way that relationships beyond our relationship with the service provider are centered there.

Change Management

This is what is so dishonest about CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s repeated assertion that Facebook is only following the direction of the Internet as an open sharing platform. He is right abut the trend. But this is the equivalent of saying that the trend is now for baggy pants and see-through tops, so all of your clothing has been swapped out in accordance with the trend. The internet is all things to all people, and there are plenty of places on it where privacy and closed community are the norm. Just because the internet is becoming more open, it doesn’t mean that Internet users need to be dragged into this new era.

It all boils into “Opt Out” vs. “Opt In”, and respecting rather than walking all over your customers. Facebook began with an assumption of privacy; changes in that assumption should be acknowledged by each user before they are enacted. Facebook could have easily developed their platform in ways that give users the choice of having open or private profiles. Instead, they’ve simply switched our private data to public without asking if that compromises our security, reputation or preferences. And it doesn’t escape my notice that there’s great money to be made in having more personal info about what I like and who I share that information with.

What you should do if this concerns you

If you went in and verified/altered your Facebook privacy settings a month or two ago, you should make another visit ASAP. Facebook has turned it around. Beth Kanter has a good write-up on what has changed. If you have any custom Facebook Pages, look out there as well — even if you’ve set profile data to private, if you link to any of your profile info from a Facebook page, it will default back to public. Whatever you do with your privacy settings, most of your basic profile data is now public and there is no option to make it private. So review your employment history, “about” and likes sections to make sure that it only has data that you don’t mind sharing with Google searchers and every advertiser on earth.

It all boils down to this

Facebook is now like Twitter and Google, with even less options for privacy than those big public networks offer. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, it’s just a very different thing, and the crime here is mostly that “F8” and “social graph” are not terms that the vast majority of the 40 million Facebook users are paying any attention to. If you’re reading this, you know better, so you can set your profile up with information that you don’t mind being in the public domain, and you can decide if you’re willing to “like” things on the internet and, thereby, expose yourself and your Facebook community to the demographic analysis and actions that will ensue. I won’t be abandoning Facebook over this, but I’m very restrictive in my use of it, and will continue to approach it with great caution.